Sunday, July 8, 2012

An arkful of books

My neighbors were making plans to build an ark, and last week, I was tempted to hustle over and join them, but I was comfortably curled up with a good book. We had the rainiest June in decades, and the weather was beginning to feel a bit Biblical.

"Noah leading the animals into the ark" c.1665
Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione
I wonder how Noah and company passed 40 wet days and nights on the ark. After feeding the animals and mucking out the stalls, I wonder if they sat around telling stories. 

If I were on an ark, I would want a library. The challenge would be which books to bring along due to the limited space. Needing some assistance with this challenge, I asked family and friends, “If you were on the ark, what book would you bring along?”  The responses were creative, humorous, and intriguing.

Some interesting suggestions:
One of the ark-building neighbors had a unique idea. He said that he would take an author, instead of a book, so that he would have the benefit of many stories.

My daughter’s first thought was a journal, providing pens were permitted. If a family were confined on an ark with a bunch of animals, there would surely be stories worth recording. We could write our own, but friendlier, version of “The Life of Pi” by Yann Martel.

Both my son-in-law and my son suggested “The SAS Survival Handbook: How to Survive in the Wild in any Climate on Land or Sea” by John ‘Lofty’ Wiseman. This same son thought we’d need “The Story of Doctor Doolittle” by Hugh Lofting.  We could pick up a new language, and meditate disputes between the aardvark and the zebra. My son-in-law, concerned that me might be in danger of contracting cabin fever and going a little “squirrely”, would also like a book that conjures up images of land to help us stay grounded.

According to my other son, Darwin’s Origin of the Species”, and George Orwell’s  “Animal Farm” were obvious choices. He also recommended “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin”, not because Franklin invented the lightning rod, but because Franklin’s ideas on living a morally good life might be helpful in recreating society once the ark docked.

Noah and the inhabitants of the ark were the precursors of the ancient nation of Israel. Although this was not the foremost reason for her selection, a friend suggested “Exodus”, by Leon Uris, the historical novel that depicts the creation of the modern day state of Israel. First published in 1958, this novel continues to impact readers with its story, and themes of human cruelty, intolerance, vengeance and forgiveness.

One of my sons and I discussed including Timothy Findley’s “Not Wanted on the Voyage”, an imaginative but very disturbing account of Noah and the ark.  We were a little hesitant, but I decided to include it with the following disclaimer: this book contains graphic scenes of violence and may offend readers.  This is not a novel for the reader who is faint of heart, or religiously invested in the Genesis account of the flood. “Not Wanted on the Voyage” raises questions about the nature of human society and religion, the human lust for power, and the need to dominate others and the natural world. 

Another neighbour suggested Bryce Courtenay’s “The Power of One”. This is the story of Peekay, a vulnerable little boy whose character is sorely tested. This novel is an inspiring tale of remaining afloat against all odds, and overcoming obstacles that have the power to destroy our spirit.

Independently of each other, my husband and I both selected “The Confessions” of Saint Augustine, translated by Maria Boulding. In the Genesis account of the flood, the ark is a refuge from the turbulent waters of destruction, and is symbolic of God’s caring presence.  In “The Confessions”, Augustine recounts his spiritual journey away from inner turbulence and disbelief towards belief and stillness in God.

“The Confessions”, like the story of Noah and the ark, has survived for centuries. Its themes of doubt and restlessness resonate with human experience. Who among us has not longed for stillness, or has not sought a refuge from trouble? Has there ever been a spiritual journey that was totally devoid of doubt?

While my question prompted some unexpected replies, the eclectic collection of ideas makes for an unusual summer reading list that will entertain us, stretch the confines of our mind, and, in the case of Augustine, uplift our soul.

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